Chen Xianmei

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Chen Xianmei

Chen Xianmei (Chinese: 陈贤妹) is a cook and trash collector on a street lined with hardware shops in Foshan, Guangdong Province.

Wrinkled and plainly dressed, the slim woman hardly attracts attention when walking on the street, except the occasion sneer or sideways glance for her seemingly indecent job. Yet it was the scrap collector who dwarfed 18 passersby on the street Oct. 13, 2011, when a toddler was run over by a white van on a narrow lane.

The car paused, and then accelerated, crushing the child a second time. Two passengers and a cyclist passed, noticing the bleeding child in the middle of the street, but making no attempt to help, leaving two-year-old Wang Yue where she lay. Just minutes later, she was run over again by another vehicle. Another 15 people passed. But still none went to her aid.

Then came Chen, she rushed to the girl. Unable to hold the soft and lifeless girl up, Chen put the child to the roadside and shouted to the neighboring shops to see if her parents were around. It was then that Yueyue’s mother found her gravely injured girl and rushed the child to hospital. The mother later knelt down in front of Chen to show her gratitude, crying uncontrollably.

Born in suburban Yangshan County, Guangdong Province, in 1953, Chen migrated to the city of Foshan seeking an urban life and the opportunities it brings. Surrounded by reporters in the wake of the incident, the village woman said she never thought she would find herself in the limelight. “It’s very common to rescue people who need help. I don’t know what people are so astonished by,” said Chen. “Over the last few days, I’ve gotten so many calls from journalists that I hardly have time to eat.”

Chen was awarded about 11,000 yuan (US$1,725) for her good deed by the local government. Chen said she would donate some to Yueyue, who was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at a military hospital in Guangdong. The child’s surgeon said the child’s best outcome is likely to emerge brain dead.

Despite critics who ridiculed Chen’s deed as a scheme to win money and fame, the rural woman said she would insist in her belief in helping those in need.

Chen’s story has embarrassed the nation, sparking a hot debate over whether the country’s breakneck development has damaged people’s ability to show sympathy and love. Although the two drivers have been arrested, the 18 indifferent passersby remain uncharged, leaving a moral vacuum the country might need years or even generations to fill.

According to the military hospital in Guangzhou, the girl died at 0:32am, October 21, 2011.